Tuesday, April 15, 2014
This book collects the first five issues of the hit comic book series. Its premise is a familiar one: the dead have come back to life. But this book is not so much a zombie story as it is a detective yarn. The plot and characters are a fresh take on noir stories, with elements of family relationships, media sensationalism, suspense, religious fanaticism, utter confusion, and horror all set in a sleepy, rural Wisconsin town. The main narrative follows police officer Dana Cypress as she tries to get to the bottom of the situation and also solve a murder mystery. Because of this isolated "the dead are rising" situation, she can speak to the victim, who can't remember what happened, which is pretty horrible. Dana is a single mom whose boss is her father, which creates not a little tension. She also protects a few family secrets (I don't want to give anything away), which creates more tension. I very much enjoyed this aspect of realistic personal relationships in the plot.
But this is not just a crime/mystery/family book. It is also chock full of horrific and creepy images. This ghoulish gallery gets established from the very first scene, where we see a local reporter doing a fluff piece on people with strange jobs. As she is interviewing and recording a junior mortician at work in the crematorium, the unthinkable and unexpected happens:
The two driving forces behind this book are writer Tim Seeley and artist Mike Norton (I love the name of his website). In terms of comics, Seeley is probably best known as the co-creator of Hack/Slash, but he has done a bunch of work with various companies, including a long run on G.I. Joe. He loves horror stories and is excellent at setting tones and spinning compelling tales with interesting characters. Norton is a comics veteran probably best known for his Eisner Award-winning webcomic Battlepug, but he also has drawn a great many comics for numerous publishers. He is a masterful visual storyteller. Both creators talk about their work on Revival in this interview.
All of the reviews I have read about this book have been glowing. CBR's Doug Zawisza called the series "an unexpected windfall that evokes an uncomfortable feeling, piques interest and taunts curiosity. It's a good read with great art and a weird, wild diversion from anything else on the stands this week." Alex Lupp gushed, "if you are a fan of character dramas with a tinge of horror and supernatural then this comic-book is a must read!" Drew Bradley summed this book up as "an unsurprisingly great debut to what will hopefully be a long series."
You're Among Friends was published by Image Comics. Here is a preview from Comic Book Resources.
The series is on-going and is currently on issue #18. There are also two additional trade paperback collections available now.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
This book collects the first six issues of what gets called a "sleeper hit" of the year. On face value, it is a book about supervillains, mostly minor foes of Spider-Man who have banded together to take on their common enemy. These are not A-list characters, and probably they are most known for how easily they were taken down in the first volume of The Superior Spider-Man. However, their status as C-list characters that are relatively unknown opens them up for more exploration and interesting situations, as the major corporation that controls these super-powered characters does not fear their likenesses being changed or altered. I mean, what is to be feared, that their Q-scores will go up?
There is a cynical part of me that gets bummed out that more exciting things are not being done with major characters, but at the same time if these companies are still willing to take chances to give expert creators leeway to make interesting and entertaining books, then does that make up for it? I leave that question to the ether and my audience really, so make of it what you will or respond what you think in the comments.
In the meantime, let me tell you about this book, the creation of two experienced creators, best-selling writer Nick Spencer and Eisner Award winning artist Steve Lieber. Spencer has told some excellent stories with his creator owned series Morning Glories, Marvel Comics' Secret Avengers, and DC Comics' Jimmy Olsen. Lieber is known for his expressive illustrations and storytelling in the comics series Whiteout, Detective Comics, and Civil War: Frontline as well as co-authoring The Complete Idiot's Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel. Spencer speaks about his work on the Superior Foes series in this interview, and Lieber speaks more extensively about his career in this interview.
So, what happens when two expert creators are given free reign to weave tales of minor supervillains without pulling any punches? They produce a bunch of compelling heist comics about a band of real jerks. There is Boomerang, an ex-professional baseball player banned for gambling; Speed Demon, a super-fast thief who used to be known as the Whizzer; Shocker, the also unfortunately named villain armed with electro-shock gauntlets; Overdrive, the getaway driver who can transform and super-charge any vehicle, and the Beetle, a woman with a technological suit of armor at her disposal. Together, they bicker and scheme, comprising the new Sinister Six. Even though there are five of them.
|Silly villain, don't you know comic books aren't worth any money?|
|Some other things I liked: They are not always in costume, and they call each other by their first names.|
Other reviewers have much good to say about this book. Jason at the Heroesonline blog called it "the best book you haven’t been reading." Jesse Schedeen commented positively that "the series is more grounded and focused on more flawed characters with less flashy powers. It's more a crime drama with costumed characters than a real supervillain book." He also had a great way of describing the series as "all about what the Six are up to when they're not being punched in the face by Spider-Man."
This book was published by Marvel Comics. There is a preview of the first few pages available here from Comic Book Resources.
Saturday, April 5, 2014
Hidden is a book about family and also about the Holocaust. It might be simplistically called Maus for middle schoolers, but that facile description detracts from this book's unique and powerful approach to depicting one girl's experiences and the effects of these events on her adulthood and role as a mother and grandmother.
The main narrative happens in France, and the main character is Dounia. We see the treatment of Jews through her young, naive eyes. Her parents try to shield her from the oppression and mistreatment, explaining that the Star of David she is obligated to wear is actually a symbol of her new job as sheriff. Little by little she sees through that facade to the injustices being done to her, her family, and her friends.
I found this book powerful and deceptively complex, an informative and evocative tale in the form of a child's account. It contains a combination of extremes that balance each other well, tempering its horrors with art that recalls Schulz's Peanuts with its aura of childhood, wisdom, and innocence. The story was direct, compelling, heartbreaking, redemptive, and full of suspense and drama. I really enjoyed reading it and was moved much more than I thought I would be.
This book is the product of a trio of French creators, writer Loic Davillier and artists Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo (all their websites are in French).
Hidden does an excellent job explaining the realities of the Holocaust to a middle grades audience (any audience really), and it has received a number of very positive reviews. Terry Hong remarked that this book effectively tells a story that is horrible and relatable, stating that "the French creative team proves spectacularly adept in balancing the nightmare with moments of innocent humor (“pink shoes”), unexpected laughter (“‘Does Grandpa know you were in love with another boy?’”), and joyful discovery (“‘I did it! I did it!’”)." Publishers Weekly also stated that the book "balances the cruelty of the persecution she experiences with the miraculous generosity of her neighbors." There are a number of other reviews at Library Thing, and one called this book "Highly Recommended."
Hidden was published by First Second. They provide a preview and much more here.
Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!
Sunday, March 30, 2014
I have to admit I am of a few minds with James Kochalka. I find his artwork fun and appealing, and there are projects of his I truly love, such as the first two Johnny Boo books, Monkey Vs. Robot, and especially his Superf*ckers (NSFW) series. Others, like Pinky and Stinky, I am lukewarm about, and some, like the later Johnny Boo books, have really disappointed me because I find them pretty shallow, ridiculous, and even mean-spirited at times. Still, I know the guy is prolific and maybe I am being too touchy about what he thinks people want to read. He was the cartoonist laureate of Vermont, so what do I know? I just want to get all that out there before I tell you what I thought of this new volume of his work.
The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza is about a space superhero-type who receives a fateful phone call one day.
Space Invaders-type baby born from an egg. Regardless, even though I have been known to appreciate some mindless humor and cartoon violence this book mostly left me cold. I just cannot bring myself to root for the title character. He is incredibly stupid, frequently blows things up without any serious repercussions, and resorts to punching himself in the face repeatedly. There is nothing attractive about him, and perhaps I am not the target audience, but I find little redeeming quality in him and his oblivious and sometimes mean, dismissive ways. Maybe he's meant to be some sort of parody, but he just comes off like a dope and a bully. And in the end all his antics prove is that it is better to be lucky than capable.
This book's creator James Kochalka has won an Eisner Award, multiple Ignatz Awards, as well as a Harvey Award, and as I already noted he is the first person ever named Cartoonist Laureate for a US state (Vermont). He used to create a daily, online, diary comic American Elf and apparently still has updates there once in a while. He also has published a wide array of comics for all age groups, mostly through Top Shelf Productions. Kochalka speaks about his work on this book, its upcoming sequel, and his favorite kind of pizza in this interview.
Perhaps the best thing about this book is the color scheme. The artwork is simple and expressive, but I find the layouts and pacing a little too by-the-numbers. This is not Kochalka's strongest book, and although there are some silly bits that are entertaining, overall this book just is not my cup of tea.
Reviews I have read of this book range across the spectrum. Kirkus Reviews wrote glowingly, "Kochalka’s worlds are always winsome, strange and silly; this is certainly one of his stronger offerings." Publishers Weekly opined that the plot might be pointless "but fans of Kochalka’s brand of absurdity (or who want to watch the Glorkian Warrior punch himself in the face a lot) will still have reason to tune in." Sharon the Librarian offered her opinion that this book "is not my kind of humor," explaining that "the main character, the warrior, is the most unintelligent character that I have ever seen. Honestly, I know that it is part of the humor, and a relatively common tool, but this goes a bit to the extreme."
The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza was published by First Second. They provide a preview and much more here.
Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!
PS, Apparently there is a Glorkian Warrior video game in the works. Check it out if you are interested.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
(Warning: Today's blog contains adult language and is more Rated R than usual, but we are all adults here, right?).
A book about art, sex, postmodern theory, drinking, donuts, zombies, and art school, you say? Sign me up, I say!
Fantastic Life is a book that treads some familiar ground for me. In part it's a depiction of art school as depicted in other works, like Dan Clowes's Art School Confidential, but it's also an examination of art, theory, and reality. Set in 1982 in Winnepeg, this book follows the travails of Adam, an art student looking to express himself, get laid, and figure out his life (not necessarily in that order). Sometimes he gets in over his head when it comes to hanging around intellectuals, and he is not always the smoothest individual.
|Adam is pretty focused when he is drunk, but does not always grasp the situation. Or language.|
The person behind all this artistry and craft is Kevin Mutch, a graphic novelist, digital artist, and painter. He received a Xeric Award in 2010 and is known for his webcomic The Moon Prince. He also has a career in design and was a long time art director the Canadian musicians The Crash Test Dummies (known by old folks like me for their hit Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, but I seriously love their first two albums). Mutch speaks about his influences and career here.
An excerpt from this book was featured in the 2011 Best American Comics anthology, and in general the book has received much praise. The reviewer at comicsbubble praised "its multi-layered content, fresh and bold line illustrations and well thought out characters." The Comic Journal's Sean T. Collins commented positively on the "way Mutch’s attention to detail, from the tits on down, solidifies and strengthens this book," and summed up, "It’s horny, heavy shit." He meant that as a compliment, I believe.
Fantastic Life was published by Blurred Books. About half of the book is available here for reading from the author.
|Sounds like the perfect book for me. Target audience acquired.|
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Bad Houses is a book about many things: young love, familial obligations, growing up, dealing with the past, and the connections between people's possessions and memories. It follows two young adults, Lewis, who works for his mother who organizes estate sales, and Anne, who lives with her mother who is a hoarder. They are both complex people in a narrative that powerfully and elegantly defines people's situations and contexts.
The concept of interplay also applies to how this book is composed. It is one of those excellent kind of comics where the words and pictures coalesce so well and complement each other in telling this story. The background details, graffiti, and local signs are just as essential to the plot as the deft dialogue and intricate narrative. Additionally, this book oozes charm, personality, and humanity in the most beautiful ways. It is absolutely winning in execution.
This book's creators are both well accomplished for their solo works but here collaborate extremely well. Writer Sara Ryan is a full time librarian and an award winning author of young adult novels, including The Rules for Hearts and Empress of the World. She has also written a number of comics for various anthologies, including Comic Book Tattoo and Hellboy: Weird Tales. Artist Carla Speed McNeil is a Lulu, Ignatz, and Eisner Award winning cartoonist. She has been publishing her Finder comics series since 1996 and began the webcomic version in 2005. She has also illustrated a few other series, such as a run on Queen & Country, and she is editor-in-chief of Saucy Goose Press. Both creators speak about their inspirations and work on this book in this interview.
Bad Houses has received and well deserves high praise. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, calling it "a drama with true depth." Time's Douglas Wolk put it on his Top 10 Best Comics and Graphic Novels list for 2013. Reading Rants described it as "a well-told and astutely drawn story of fate and forgiveness." Hillary Brown opined that it is "more than just a tale of young love and the way life opens up when you find someone who clicks. The book operates in a kind of clockwork universe, a.k.a. a small town, where everyone is connected in some fashion." Its subject matter might not be typical graphic novel fare, but it is a unique and exquisite book.
Bad Houses was published by Dark Horse, and they provide a preview and more here.
Thanks to Sara Ryan for sharing a PDF of this book with me!
Saturday, March 15, 2014
David-Niven-in-the-Pink-Panther type of thief, but the story is very much set in the present day, with the clever use of modern gadgetry and social media to coordinate efforts among Bandette's very large (for a secret thief, I gather) band of accomplices, who include a delivery guy, a band of street urchins, and a trio of dancers.
Bandette is another creation of husband/wife creative team Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover. They have collaborated in the past on the web-series Gingerbread Girl and Banana Sunday, an all-ages graphic novel about a young woman who becomes guardian of three monkeys. They are both members of the Periscope Studio. Tobin has written a number of comics, notably many entries in the Marvel Adventures series. He has also written a novel about superheroes, Prepare to Die! Coover has also written and drawn the adult comic book series Small Favors, which has a strong following, and a number of short works for Marvel Comics. Coover and Tobin speak more about their work on Bandette in this interview.
Bandette won the 2013 Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic, and all the reviews I have read about this book have been very positive. Hillary Brown called it "wonderfully ephemeral." Publishers Weekly summed up, "This is a wonderful gateway comic for readers of all ages—one of the brightest, and most fun, comics of the year." Craig Neilson gushed, "I honestly can’t recommend Bandette highly enough to those of you who may fancy a change of pace from the overly serious, ‘grimy and gritty’ titles which seem to make up the lion’s share of comic book shelves these days."
The chapters in this book were originally published as 99¢ e-comics from MonkeyBrain, and you can keep up with the more recent episodes there. This book contains the first five installments, plus a bunch of bonus stories from some very talented artists as well as notes from Tobin and Coover about how they create the comic. It is a very well designed and purchase-worthy book, even with the option to cheaply buy the main narrative in shorter segments.
Presto! was published by Dark Horse, and they provide a preview here.